The Power of Silence

Recently, I sat with a friend facing the most difficult tragedy of her life. There were no words of comfort for her grief. The ache in her soul couldn’t be covered by the trite admonitions we so often speak when we’re not sure what else to say.

I was thinking that day about Job’s friends. When we first meet these three men, Job has lost everything – his property, his children and his health. At the end of Job chapter two, we meet his friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. The chapter ends with this, “When they looked from a distance, they could barely recognize him. They wept aloud, and each man tore his robe and threw dust into the air and on his head. Then they sat on the ground with him seven days and nights, but no one spoke a word to him because they saw his suffering was very intense” (v.12-13).

Seven days they sat there, mourning with their friend. Seven days of no words, no platitudes. Silence. Seven days of silence.

Now, I’ll be honest, it basically all goes downhill from there. Job’s friends are not what any of us would call encouragers once they start speaking. But there are still lessons we can learn from the way they started.

First, they showed up. When we have grieving friends, the most important gift we can give is our presence.

Second, they hurt for their friend. While we cannot change the circumstances causing our friend’s sorrow, we should hurt for them. Paul admonishes us to “grieve with those who grieve” (Romans 12:15). Job’s friends saw the despair Job felt and they hurt, and they mourned for their friend and his loss. We must be the same.

Third, they stayed. Seven days and seven nights these three men sat with Job. When our friends are hurting, we need to stay. While we might not literally stay for a full week, we need to remember grief and sorrow don’t subside quickly. Keep texting or calling, sending notes or dropping by. When everyone else is back to normal, our grieving friends are not. Staying means continuing to acknowledge and care for their grief.
Fourth and finally, they were quiet. We have this terrible tendency to fill in quiet spaces with noise. As tempting as it is, don’t. Those spaces might feel awkward and uncomfortable, but they are good and necessary. And we can trust that God is at work in those silences, whispering peace and comfort and strength over our friends.

We can’t stop the tragedies from happening. And we’re going to say the wrong thing sometimes. But let’s be aware of the power of silence, the gift of simply showing up, and the importance of staying. And let’s be true friends.

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